Disney's new 'Little Mermaid' follows hundreds of years of Black mermaids in folklore

By Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2022 - 11:03am
Updated: Friday, May 26, 2023 - 11:57am

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Halle Bailey in Disney
Walt Disney Studios
Halle Bailey stars in Disney’s 2023 live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s live-action reboot of "The Little Mermaid" opens in theaters Friday. The long anticipated remake is one of a handful of films kicking off the summer blockbuster season.

Desiree W. Cueto
Cynthia Sodari
Desiree W. Cueto

The movie stars Halle Bailey as Ariel. Bailey is Black, and after the trailer was released last winter, several parents of Black girls posted on social media about their daughters’ excited reactions.

But, the casting has its critics as well, who argue Disney’s original mermaid in the 1989 animated film — who was white — more accurately represented the character in Hans Christian Andersen’s story.

There are a lot of folklore tales about Black mermaids, though, and that mythology dates back hundreds of years.

Desiree Cueto is an associate professor at the University of Arizona who studies children’s literature, specifically literature from the African diaspora. She joined The Show to talk about Black mermaids in stories from around the world.

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